Northern Ireland drives annual house price growth

Other areas that performed strongly were the East of England (10.7%) and London (9.4%).

But annual growth has been on the decline since the end of 2014, as it slowed from 8.4% in January to 7.2% in February after prices increased by just 0.6% month-on-month.

Stephen Smith, director of Legal & General Mortgage Club and Housing, said: “House price growth has slowed since the end of 2014.

“Although it might not seem like it, this is actually good news for the housing market, as price rises that are too sharp can prevent people from getting on the property ladder.

“Ideally, house prices would grow at roughly the same rate as inflation, so that prices don’t rise faster than potential buyers can save a deposit."

Dragonfly Property Finance chief executive Jonathan Samuels agreed that slower growth is a good thing for the housing market.

He said: "In certain areas of the UK, few would deny that the market got ahead of itself. With this in mind, the return to more sustainable levels of growth should be seen as a positive.

"We expect the market to tick over until the general election is behind us, with activity levels more or less equivalent to recent months.

"During the rest of the year prices and activity could start to pick up again, driven by ongoing low mortgage rates, greater disposable incomes, an influx of buy-to-let investors due to the pension changes and the ongoing shortage of property."

He added: "The outcome of the general election could have a stronger influence on activity levels at the higher end of the market.

"Right now, it's anyone's guess as to what the next government will look like and what its approach to the property market will be."

London and the South East skew the figures, as excluding those areas UK house prices increased by 5.9% in the 12 months to February 2015.

Smith added: “Currently we need around 200,000 new homes to be built each year.

“Unless we can meet this target, prices will continue to rise rapidly, making it harder for many to get a foot on the ladder.”